John Meredith Read papers

Collection 1668

( Bulk, 1818-1873 ) 1746-1917
(11.0 Linear feet ; 28 boxes)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Read, John Meredith, 1797-1874.
John Meredith Read papers
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1818-1873
Date [inclusive]
11.0 Linear feet ; 28 boxes
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Mixed materials [Box]
John Meredith Read (1794-1874) was a Philadelphia lawyer, jurist, and politician. He served on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and was a founding member of both the Free Soil and Republican parties. This collection of John Meredith Read's papers deals mostly with his legal career and covers his political career to a lesser extent. The collection spans Read life and includes some papers from his ancestors as well as his children. There is both business and personal correspondence, legal papers, financial records, estate papers, papers on the Masons, miscellaneous ephemera and printed matter, and volumes.

Preferred Citation note

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], John Meredith Read papers (Collection 1668), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Biographical/Historical note

John Meredith Read was born in Philadelphia in 1794 to John Read and Martha Meredith. He was born into a family having strong political and legal ties; his father was a lawyer and his grandfathers were Continental Congressmen George Read and Samuel Meredith. Read studied law at the University of Pennsylvania and was admitted to the Bar in 1818. From there he began a legal practice in Philadelphia, but a political career soon followed. He was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1822 and later served as Philadelphia's city solicitor. In 1837 he was appointed United States district attorney of the eastern district of Pennsylvania. Initially, Read followed his family's Democratic politics, and he was a founder of the Free Soil Party. However, by the end of his life, Read had become a staunch Republican, having helped establish that party in 1856. In 1858, Read was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He remained in this position until his death in 1874.

Read married twice during his life. First to Priscilla Marshall in 1828 and together they had several children including John Meredith Read Jr. (1837-1896), who served as a general during the Civil War. Marshall died in 1841. A few years later, in 1865, Read married Amelia Thompson. The couple had no children.

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Scope and Contents note

The John Meredith Read papers span twenty-eight boxes. The bulk of the papers cover Read's career from the early to late 1800s, with a few items dating from before his birth and after his death. Such materials include papers from his father John Read and from his son John M. Read Jr. and his own children. Though the collection highlights Read's public work in law and politics, details about his persona life can be gleaned from the letters of family and friends that are scattered throughout the boxes of correspondence.

Incoming correspondence in the collection primarily concerns court cases, estates, and business interests, and touches only occasionally on Read's political interests as a state Republican leader. There is some correspondence between Read and his first wife Priscilla dating from 1825 to 1831. Many of the letters from 1840 to 1874 are from other family members, chiefly his father John Read who wrote from Trenton of financial matters, and his son John Meredith Read, Jr., who wrote from school and later from his law office in Albany. A series of letters from Col. Charles H.T. Collis, dating from 1862 to 1864, covers Collis's court martial case and his observations on the progress of the Civil War. An 1846-1850 letter book (Volume 2) also relates to Read's general legal and financial matters. Read's several judicial appointments are documented additionally by court docket books, 1815-1840 (Volumes 3 and 4), which cover first the period of private practice and later his cases as U.S. district attorney for eastern Pennsylvania. More of his personal court docket books, dating from roughly 1859 to 1873, that he kept during his tenure as Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice can be found in Box 12. Read was an active member of the Masons, and a number of manuscripts in Box 11 relate to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, including a record and account book from 1825 to 1834.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2011

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Conditions Governing Access note

The collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Purchased, 1952.

Gift of Richard S. Rodney, 1953.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Arthur C. Bining collection, 1787-1957 (Collection 1811)

Meredith family papers, 1756-1894 (Collection 1509)

Read family letters, 1716-1872 (Collection 537)

Read family papers, 1810-1879 (Collection 1810)

Read family papers, 1736-1896 (part of the collections of The Library Company of Philadelphia)

William E. Stokes collection, 1836-1948 (Collection 1638)

At other institutions:

John Meredith Read collection, circa 1870-1907, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, Rover Campus Libraries of the University of rochester. [Note: This collection covers John Meredith Read (1837-1896), son of John M. Read.]

Clymer-Meredith-Read family papers, 1675-1902, bulk (1760s-1850s), Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Correspondence.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Pennsylvania--Politics and government.

Personal Name(s)

  • Collis, Charles H.F., fl. 1862-1864.
  • Kittera, Thomas, 1789-1839.
  • Read, John Meredith, 1837-1896.
  • Read, John, 1796-1854.


  • Freemasons--Philadelphia--19th century.

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Collection Inventory


John M. Read account book 1824-1869 


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John M. Read letterbook 1846-1850  (Bulk, 1846)


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John M. Read court docket 1815-1838 


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John M. Read court docket 1837-1840   Contains some loose pages


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Bills, receipts, etc. circa 1804-1873 

Scope and Contents note

Box contains three overstuffed folders and one bundle. (Small receipts in folders are in piles, in very rough chronological order.) Dates are roughly correct as well. Many receipts from the Philadelphia Bank from the 1830s bear the signature on “John M. Read.” Some later documents are signed by “John Meredith Read Jr.” or are addressed to “John Read Esq.”


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Papers 1812-1854 

Box Folder

Letters and various legal papers 1812-1824 

2 1

Receipts, deed, letters 1824-1826 

2 2

Papers relating to Waln vs. Dalzell 1824 

2 3

Letters and financial statements 1823 

2 4

Papers relating to Ashley vs. Morris and various letters 1827-1828 

2 5

Papers related to Estate of Charles Dungan 1828-1831 

2 6

Davis vs. Espy – principally financial papers related to case 1828 

2 7

Davis vs. Espy – correspondence and briefs 1829-1831 

2 8

Letters and cancelled checks 1829 

2 9

Letters, notes concerning street pavement assessments in Philadelphia 1830-1832 

2 10

Papers relating to Smith vs. Philips 1833 

2 11

Letters, notes about Philadelphia Bank; material concerning personal finances of J. M. Read 1833 

2 12

Correspondence, including letters about Philadelphia Bank; notes concerning street paving assessments in Philadelphia; cancelled checks and bills of J. M. Read 1837-1838 

2 13

Correspondence; paid bills, checks of J. M. Read; legal papers 1841-1842 

2 14

Personal correspondence; street repair assessments 1843 

2 15

Correspondence, miscellaneous 1844 

2 16

Papers relating to Lynch vs. Burr 1844 

2 17

Correspondence 1845-1846 

2 18

Papers relating to Barrett vs. Sniveley and Buehler 1849 

2 19

Papers relating to Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad 1849 

2 20

Miscellaneous correspondence, mainly with B. Parke 1849 

2 21

Correspondence mainly with B. Parke 1850 

2 22

Correspondence mainly with B. Parke and J. Hyde, 1851 1851 

2 23

Correspondence 1852 

2 24

Correspondence, Farr Estate accounting 1853-1854 

2 25

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Papers 1855-1869 

Box Folder

Correspondence with J. Hyde, C. E. Dubois, and others; “Ferry Co. General Notes,” 1855 155 

3 1

Papers relating to Chew Estate 1855 

3 2

Correspondence and cancelled checks of J. M. Read 1856-1859 

3 3

Correspondence and records of Judge Read’s income 1860-1861 

3 4

Personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1862 

3 5

Papers relating to draftee cases 1862 

3 6

January to March personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1863 

3 7

April to September personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1863 

3 8

October to December personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1863 

3 9

Papers relating to draftee cases; statement of Judge Reed’s (Read) personal income 1864 

3 10

Correspondence; note relating to naval allotments 1865 

3 11

Correspondence, miscellaneous 1866 

3 12

Papers related to Smith vs. Van Dyke; other correspondence 1867 

3 13

January to June correspondence 1868 

3 14

July, August, September correspondence 1868 

3 15

October, November, December correspondence 1868 

3 16

January to April personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1869 

3 17

May to August personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1869 

3 18

September to December personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read) 1869 

3 19

January to October correspondence 1869 

3 20

November correspondence 1869 

3 21

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Papers 1796-1829 

Scope and Contents note

Generally, these folders, unless labeled with titles other than just dates, contain a mix of correspondence, legal papers, and a few financial records. The vast majority of correspondence is incoming, but there are occasional outgoing letters. Papers dating from before about 1815 may have originated from John M. Read’s father, John Read.

Box Folder

"Before 1800"   Contains just a few documents. At least one, a copy from 1798, is signed “John Read Jun’r, Commissioner”

4 1

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records 1800-1819 

4 2-3

Philadelphia Bank vs. Anthony Groves 1819-1820 

4 4

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records 1820-1829 

4 5

Thomas Billington Estate, 1826-1827 

4 6

Kerr vs. Philadelphia Bank 1827-1828 

4 7

Letters to Mrs. John (Priscilla) Read, mainly from her husband 30 July-4 September 1828 

4 8

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Papers 1830-1852 

Box Folder

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records 1830-1852 

5 1-8

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Papers 1853-1871 

Box Folder

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records 1853 

6 1

Estate of Anne Josephine Fransen 1853-1854 

6 2

MIxed correspondence, legal papers, financial records 1854-1871, undated 

6 3-5

Cancelled checks (loose, some in a bundle) 

6 6

Appointment as attorney general of Pennsylvania 1846 

6 7

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Ms. Volumes, JMR legal notes, letter book, pocket diaries 1837-1873, undated 

Box inventory

Loose volumes in box. All attributed to John M. Read unless otherwise noted.

Small pocket diary, 1837

Mrs. J. M. Read calendar, 1839

Letterbook, 1841-1846

Calendar, 1848

Seven Legal notebooks, 1859-1873

Margaret M. Read’s extract book, undated (mostly notes on history)

Commonplace book, undated

“Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth by Miss Aiken,” undated

Legal notes, undated (no covers)


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Box Folder

Correspondence (mixed personal and business) 1792-1839 

8 1-3

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Correspondence (mixed personal and business) 1850-1859 

9 1-4

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Correspondence and miscellaneous items 1880-1882, 1902-1917, undated 

Box Folder

Letters 1880-1882, 1902-1917  

Scope and Contents note

Correspondence of John Meredith Read Jr. (1837-1896), John M. Read’s son, and Harmon Pumpelly Read (b. 1860), John M. Read’s grandson; possibly also John M. Read III (b. 1869).

10 1

Letters undated 

10 2


10 3

Miscellaneous envelopes, cards, photographs 

10 4

Miscellaneous printed matter 

10 5

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Masonic items 1780-1834, undated 

Box Folder

Minutes, history, bylaws, etc. 

11 1

Financial reports, bills & receipts 

11 2

Lists of members in various places 

11 3


11 4

Masons vs. the Franklin Institute 

11 5

Volume: Thomas Tillyer’s book – notes on St. John’s Lodge, No. 115 July 7, 1780  


Volume: Memorandum book, Grand Secretary (mainly accounts) 1825-1834 


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Miscellaneous small volumes, John Read, Thomas Kittera, Cochran & Waters, Wm. Hood Estate 1808-1851 

Box inventory

John M. Read cases notebook, 1803-1810

John M. Read cases notebook, 1804-1805, containing bundle of “receipts respecting Capt. Ross’s house in Walnut Street”

John M. Read cases notebook, 1809-1812

John M. Read cases notebook, 1819

"Bank of the United States…1806, Ch. Villar," 1813-1818

Book containing similar entries to "Bank of the United States…1806, Ch. Villar," 1804-1805

Account book, 1804-1808 (no cover)

John M. Read journal, 1818-1820

Thomas Kittera receipt book, 1827-1839

Account book, 1849, 1850

John M. Read ledger of estate inventories and accounts, 1850-1851


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Miscellaneous section, cash books, printed matter circa 1792-1873 

Box Folder

T. Kittera – bills, checks, promissory notes 1816-1839 

13 1

Miscellaneous land papers (mostly folded deeds) circa 1792-1796 

13 2

Jefferson Medical College 

13 3

Volume: Cash book 1843-1849 


Volume: Cash book 1849-1850 


Pamphlets (loose) 1850-1873 

List of pamphlets

Opinions of Messers. Meredith & Binney as to the right of the corporation of the city of Philadelphia to the use of the water and water-power of the river Schuylkill at Fairmount Dam (1843)

Opinion of John M. Read, Esquire, against the right of city councils to subscribe for stock in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and to increase the city debt and taxes for that purpose (1846)

Speech of Hon. John M. Read at the Democratic Town Meeting in Favor of the Union and California (1850)

Supreme Court of U. S. argument on behalf of the appellee, Hollingsworth Magniac, et al. vs. John R. Thomson, John Cadwalader and John M. Read for appellee (1853)

Speech of Mr. Cass of Michigan on the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1854)

Opinion of Hon. John M. Read of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in favor of the Constitutionality of the Act of Congress of March 3, 1863 (1864)

Opinion of Hon. John M. Read of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in favor of the Constitutionality of the Act of Congress declaring treasury notes a legal tender in payment of debts (1865)

First Report of the Associated Delaware & Raritan Canal Co., Camden & Amboy R. R. & Transportation Co., and New Jersey R. R. & Transportation Co., to the Stockholders (1867)

Supreme Court of PA opinion of the court by Read, Justice, City vs. Fields, et al. (1867)

Letter of Ex-Chief Justice Read of the Supreme Court, on the New Constitution, Its Abolition of Secrecy of the Ballot (1873) (2 copies)


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Correspondence, letterpress books and pages, miscellaneous 1829-1875 

Box Folder

Correspondence and miscellaneous 1829-1875 

14 1-3

Letterpress book (partial) 1852 

14 4

Letterpress book (partial) 1855 

14 5

Letterpress book (mostly in tact but no covers), 1868?-1874 

14 6

Index? (partial) Undated 

14 7

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Box Folder

Correspondence  1860-1869, 1870-1873 

Scope and Contents note

Mix of personal and business letters. Some letters are from Charles H. T. Collis and regard a court martial. Family letters are from son John Meredith Read Jr., son-in-law William H. Hyde, and his daughter Emma Habicht Hyde.

15 1-4

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Legal – U. S. Bank Case, Clymer Est., Asylum Co. 1816-1843 

Box Folder

U. S. Bank Case (correspondence, case notes, financial data) circa 1838-1840 

16 1

Extracts of legislation affecting Philadelphia 1832-1843 

16 2

Clymer Estate (correspondence, Clymer’s will, financial records) 1816-1817 

16 3

Asylum Co. Lands (mostly correspondence) 1824-1829 

16 4

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Legal 1746-circa 1827 


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Legal 1832-1847 

Box Folder

Legal papers -- some papers, 1839-1840, concern Naval General court martial of Captain Jess Duncan Elliot. John M. Read presided as judge advocate. 1832-1841 

18 1

Legal papers -- Burr-Lynch papers 1835-1841, 1847  

Scope and Contents note

Papers mostly concern Burr-Lynch case, which involved charges of fraud and conspiracy between business partners Joseph Burr, Joseph Burr Jr., and Joshua Burr, and James Lynch.

18 2

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Legal 1794-circa 1866 


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Correspondence including letterbook 1840-1849 

Scope and Contents note

No letterboox was found in the box during the inventory. It's possible the book was removed to the shelf and is now Volume 2, John M. Read letterbook,1846-1850.


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Legal 1797-1851 


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Legal 1812-1873 


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Legal 1777-1871 


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Legal circa 1810-circa 1849, bulk 1837-1840  

Scope and Contents note

Taking up the bulk of the folder are papers (mostly at front of folder) that seem to concern three related court cases: Holden V. Haviland, Holden v. Riggs, and Riggs v. Holden. There are case notes, correspondence, and other papers dating mostly from 1837-1840. At back of folder are unrelated(?) court notes.


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Legal 1797-1873 

Scope and Contents note

There are two folders in the box. The second one contains an undated history of the Meredith family by Sarah Maria Meredith Graham.


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Michael Meylert and William Brooke Rawle correspondence, 1858-1880; Michael Meylert and John M. Read correspondence, 1856-1882; Mortgages and deeds, wills, J. M. Read and W. B. Rawle 

Box Folder

Michael Meylert and William Brooke Rawle correspondence 1858-1880 

26 1

Michael Meylert and John M. Read correspondence 1856-1882 

26 2

Correspondence and an agreement 1867-1890 

26 3

Mortgages, deeds, wills, etc., J. M. Read and W. B. Rawle 

26 4

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Miscellaneous 1870-1873 

Box Folder

January to March correspondence, papers relating to Clafin vs. Winternitz 1870 

27 1

April to September correspondence 1870 

27 2

October to December correspondence 1870 

27 3

January correspondence 1871 

27 4

February to June correspondence 1871 

27 5

October correspondence, minutes of meeting of directors of the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad, 1871 1871 

27 6

November correspondence, including personal letters and material related to the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad 1871 

27 7

Correspondence 1872-1873 

27 8

Miscellaneous, including undated letters, unidentified notes on cases, and copies of various documents 

27 9

Business cards 

27 10

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Genealogies, maps, property descriptions, some personal letters, Mrs. Dickinson’s receipts, 1 folder, no date, misc. circa 1769-1875 

Box Folder

Genealogies, maps, property descriptions, some personal letters, Mrs. Dickinson’s receipts circa 1769-1882 

28 4

Dickinson receipts 1797-1877 

28 2

Read Misc. (mostly correspondence) 1808-1875 

28 3

No date, misc. (mostly legal and financial papers, some correspondence) 

28 4

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